The History of Valentine's Day

Red roses and chocolates are some of the gifts that lovers commonly exchange on Valentine’s Day.
Red roses and chocolates are some of the gifts that lovers commonly exchange on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day, which is commemorated on the 14th day of February every year, is also called the Feast of Saint Valentine or Saint Valentine’s Day. The holiday started as a liturgical feast day of the church in the Western Roman Empire. During these celebrations, Christians in those parts honored one or more early saints called Valentinus. Today, Valentine’s Day is observed in many parts of the world, and it bears a significant cultural meaning as it is associated with romantic love. Lovers purchase gifts for their loved ones on this day to express their affection for them.

History of the Saint Valentine’s Day

Although there were several martyrs of the early Christian church named Valentine, only two of them are commemorated on February 14. The two saints are Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome. Valentine of Terni was a Bishop of Terni, formerly known as Interamna. It is believed that he was martyred in 213 during the reign of Emperor Aurelian. The Emperor introduced religious reforms in Rome as he sought to impose the Sun god on the people. During this period, anyone who went against these reforms was persecuted. Valentine of Rome was a Roman priest. He was martyred in 269, and Pope Gelasius added him to the calendar of saints in 496. Both martyrs were buried on the Via Flaminia.

Religious Significance of the Feast Day

Various denominations celebrate St. Valentine’s Day on February 14. The Anglican Communion includes this day in its calendar of saints. The Lutheran Church also recognizes it as a feast day of the saint. In the Roman Catholic faith, the feast day is not part of the General Roman Calendar, but it is included in various local and national calendars. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates St. Valentine of Rome on July 6 and St. Valentine of Terni (Interamna) on July 30.

Connection with Romantic Love

Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry is the earliest recorded reference to Valentine’s Day as a special day for lovers. In a 1382 poem titled 'The Parliament of Birds,' Chaucer wrote that birds gather in the assembly on St. Valentine’s Day to choose their mates. He wrote the poem as a tribute to the first anniversary of King Richard II of England’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia. In 1400, King Charles VI of France introduced the culture of celebrating love on February 14 of every year. He organized lavish festivities for members of the royal court on the day in a French commune called Mantes-et-la-Jolie. Other famous people including Charles of Orleans and Shakespeare also contributed to the culture by writing Valentine poetry.

Celebrations and Status Around the World

Custom celebrations of the day started in England and spread to other English speaking nations in the 19th century. Other countries adopted the tradition later in the 20th and 21st centuries. The day is characterized by concentrated marketing efforts to encourage lovers to spend on their loved ones. South Korea and China are the two East Asian countries that spend the most money on St. Valentine’s Day gifts. The gifts that lovers commonly exchange on Valentine’s Day include red roses, chocolates, confectionery, greeting cards, jewelry, various treats, and other symbolic gifts such as Saint Valentine’s keys. The traditions vary depending on the country.


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